It’s time for March Madness at The Den(ver) of the Secret Nine when we meet Sunday, March 13, at 12:30 p.m. at Pints Pubs in downtown Denver. We’ll be discussing Psmith Journalist, our second outing with the smooth talking Bolshevik.
As usual, we’ll have lunch and relay any Plum-related news before tossing bread and discussing the novel, which brings Rupert Psmith to New York City and involves a cat, boxing, street gangs and social reform. Extra credit for those who read The Prince and Betty either in the US or UK editions.
I hope I will also be able to provide news of original member Mike and his recovery from chemotherapy.
Now, as part of the plan we instituted a few meetings ago, wherein the person who champions the next book to be read must contribute some discussion notes, member Janette has created:
Ten Things to Know about Psmith Journalist
- The Sherlockians will especially appreciate the one, crucial point that makes this book rather important in an intersection between their study and that of the Wodehousians. No, if you don’t know it, I’m not giving it away yet.
- Serialized in The Captain Magazine from Oct. 1909 to Feb 1910. Published in book form 1915.
- Third appearance of Psmith.
- Not often seen in Wodehouse before (or much after): a social conscience
- Remade into The Prince and Betty and later A Prince for Hire—he was asked for a quick turnaround on a new novel in 1912, so he “cannibalized” Psmith Journalist, added a love interest, and made all the characters American. He included a byproduct, a character called “Smith.”
- PsmithJournalist.com is a blog by a self-described “media observer” Patrick Smith, featuring cute hedgehog and cat photos, among other things.
- “Psmith Journalist,” originally titled “Psmith USA,” reveals a new side to Wodehouse. It still features Mike and Psmith (he could not risk losing his public-school readers) but, for the first time, the action is set exclusively in the magazine and boxing world of New York City with which its author had become so familiar. As well as being set in a grown-up world, “Psmith Journalist” also has ambitions to social realism. The Lower East Side gangsterism with which Psmith becomes farcically embroiled is based on Wodehouse’s reading of the newspaper in 1904, a fact he was at pains to stress in his preface: “The gangs of New York exist in fact. I have not invented them. Most of the incidents in this story are based on actual happenings.”
Bat Jarvis bears a striking resemblance to Monk Eastman, the leader of a gang of twelve hundred hoodlums, who had attracted widespread New York newspaper coverage throughout the 1900s. Eastman was a gangster straight out of the movies, but no picture himself, with a bullet shaped head, a bull neck and scarred cheeks. Like many thugs, Eastman was soft-hearted towards animals, kept a bird and animal store on Broome Street, and would often venture out with a cat under each arms, a blue pigeon happily perched on his shoulder.
His ambition for social satire is thwarted by the innocence of his vision, his distaste for violence and his reluctance, as he would put it later, to go “right deep down into life… not caring a damn.
The serialization led to Wodehouse’s first press interview, to which he showed up wearing “a stripey black and purple Incogniti* cricketing blazer with the thin gold stripe.”
Above from Wodehouse by Robert McCrum
*Incogniti is a nomadic cricket club founded in 1861.
- The surprising thing is that there weren’t more Psmith books, for Wodehouse was very fond of Psmith and enjoyed writing about him. “I think the reason Psmith came off so well was that he was based on a real person,” he said not long ago. “He was modeled on a boy named Rupert D’Oyly Carte—the son of the Gilbert and Sullivan man—who was at Winchester with a cousin of mine, Jim Deane. Jim was fascinated by him and loved telling us about him. I never did get to meet young D’Oyly Carte. Of course, that could be the best way to get to a chap—to hear all about him but not to know him personally. Then you’re likely to be too close.”
…the fondness that Psmith and other Wodehouse characters show for the substitute phrase—the more orotund the better—derives principally from the verbal style of the Knut, the slang Edwardian term for the good-natured, abstracted fop…. Lord Tidmouth, a Knutty character in a 1927 play called “Good Morning Bill” adapted by Wodehouse from a Hungarian play, uses half a dozen substitutes for goodbye: bung-ho, teuf-teuf, toodle-oo, tinkery-tonk, poo-boop-a-doop, and honk honk.
On the other hand, the formal, recitative manner employed by Psmith and later by such talented raconteurs such as Lord Ickenham and Galahad Threepwood, is an echo, Usborne believes, of Arthur Conan Doyle’s narrative voice for the Sherlock Holmes stores. Wodehouse found these observations by Usborne very interesting. “When I was a schoolboy and a young man, Conan Doyle and Dickens were indeed two of my favorite authors… if reading them had any especial effect on my manner of writing, I must say I was never aware of it. Of course, one never knows those things. I would guess that Barry Pain had as much influence on my writing as anyone. No one, I gather, reads Barry Pain* today, but he is awfully good. I have all of his books.”
The above from The World of P.G. Wodehouse by Herbert Warren Wind
*indeed, a list of over 50 books by Pain on Wikipedia does not include a single title that I have ever heard of! Twelve of his stories were adapted into a series of comic 10-minute monologues on the BBC in 1992.
- Besides an example of the Edwardian “Knut,” Psmith is also the first of the Wodehouse “buzzers.” Buzzers throw out outrageous statements, without regard to being true or false, to stir things up and provoke a reaction from people. This is opposed to a “Burbler,” who gets phrases and word meanings mixed up and tends to go on and on, as Bertie Wooster often does.
A great Usborne quote: “Psmith is like a breath of good, stale nightclub air coming through the healthily open, if precautiously barred, windows of common room, study and dormitory. To readers of Wodehouse, he is the link between Awkward Adolescence and the Great After Life. He leads us to the new world of the City, America, gangsters, crooks, clubs, Psocialism and Blandings Castle. … Psmith is a lazy man who like his comforts. He is strongly opposed to missing his sleep, and he quotes a learned German doctor’s theory that early rising leads to insanity. Psmith offers us later breakfasts, deep armchairs, the smell of cigar smoke, the folding of the hands in repose after good lunches in clubland, and a lifetime truce to ‘training.’ Psmith wafts us painlessly from the School Close to Piccadilly.”
From Plum Sauce by Richard Usborne
- Finally, in a letter to his American publisher in 1915, Wodehouse wrote:
Dear Mr. Wilson:
Splendid. I should be delighted if you would publishe Psmith Journalist on the same terms as the other books.
Go right ahead. I don’t want to add or alter anything. It seems to be one of those masterpieces you can’t alter a comma of.
Yours sincerely, From: P.G. Wodehouse, A Life in Letters